Guest Editorial: Memory and Holiday Overspending
by Mark Underwood
President and co-founder of Quincy Bioscience
In the 1971 hit song, “Sunshine,” one of the lyrics asks, “How much does it cost? I’ll buy it.” A quick sale like that is a good sale for advertisers, but may not be for your wallet.
Do you have problems resisting the lure of great sales? Do you go shopping with the intent of browsing but come home with an abundance of goods that put you in debt more than you bargained for?
The temptation to give in to greatly slashed prices, one-day-only sales, “early bird” deep discounts, free items with purchases over $100, and other such ploys to get you to buy more is prevalent and tempting over the holidays.
What can you do to enjoy the holidays but keep your spending in check?
For many people, the pattern of overspending is how they’ve been shopping all their lives. If they see something they want, they buy it regardless of the financial outcome. Until they get the credit card bills in January and wonder what got into them in December?
You can call it a lot of things—lack of wisdom, lack of planning or a lack of understanding of their family’s financial situation.
But most importantly, you should call it poor “executive function,” a term well known by scientists who refer to an ability to multi-task, make good decisions, plan ahead, prioritize your needs (versus your “wants,” as in overspending), and carefully weigh options.
A series of new research from Aberdeen, Scotland, has shown that if you have problems sticking to a plan like a holiday budget, don’t blame perpetual sales gimmicks that pop up everywhere you look. Instead of blaming the power of advertising, you could blame your lack of willpower on what’s going on with your memory.
Take control of your brain power
Wouldn’t it be great if you had more control over your finances especially during the holidays?
Research has found that poor executive function is the reason why it is difficult for some people to resist temptation and keep on track with a plan compared to people who have excellent executive function.
While executive function includes such things as planning and carefully considering options, it also includes having a prospective memory. That is defined as having a sharp recall ability to remember to do things or say “no” to other things like buying things you don’t need.
People who have poor prospective memory often don’t have sharp concentration and recall skills and that may factor in to forgetting or foregoing their budget when they go shopping.
The message is that when you take care of your brain health you will have better willpower. Cognitive performance, memory and willpower go hand-in-hand.
Put yourself on a ‘sales diet’
Holidays present challenging times for shoppers regardless of what your budget may be. It’s hard to resist pre- and post-holiday sales, many of which are fraught with urgency.
How do you exercise willpower when so many sales opportunities are offered on almost anything, any day of the week? Shoppers are constantly presented with opportunities to get deep discounts by mail, email and media advertising.
How do you take charge of your willpower so you don’t get stuck with huge credit card bills after the holidays are long gone?
Go on a spending diet and do it sooner rather than later. Here are some tips for making this holiday season a success.
With improved executive function, you will make better choices like these:
Ask yourself if you would buy a specific item if it were full price? If the answer is no, you may be reacting to a sales push instead of making a good buying decision.
Delete unsolicited sales emails or big discount offers that come in the mail. Unless you’re planning to make a specific purchase and you find out it is on sale, carefully weigh the consequences of unplanned purchases.
Make lists. Go shopping at the mall, online or to holiday events with a list of what your total budget is that day.
Jot down a maximum price that you’ll pay for holiday gifts. Keep looking at the list then stick to the plan.
Work on willpower. You can do that with healthy lifestyle habits like eating nutritious meals, cutting back on holiday sugar, exercising and getting enough quality rest.
Even the best laid plans can crumble when you feel exhausted and stressed and aren’t getting a good night’s sleep. When you have better executive function, you’ll make better lifestyle choices, and then you’re on your way to resisting temptations.